In this 3rd post of the series, we will finally take a look at what you can do about all of this. I’m adamant that if you are an overachiever and can relate to some of this information, you should become an expert at anxiety and stress management. Why? Because there’s really a high probability that anxiety is chronic and it will be a constant in your life at different levels of intensity from mild to severe.
Maybe medication has been considered, although I truly hope it was not the first line of defense. It works for some, but not for others, and here is one possible reason:
Medication will generally address amygdala-based anxiety, which is more subconscious and has more physical symptoms. In short, it takes the edge off, but it will not change your thinking patterns, the catastrophic images in your mind, the obsessive-compulsive behaviors, the avoidance, and all the other unhealthy coping mechanisms that you may have developed over time.
That’s where psychoeducation, therapy, and trying new behaviors come in really handy.
Of course, as I always have to post my disclaimers, this blog post should not be considered therapy or individualized treatment advice. It’s just a taste of what options are out there so you’ll get a better idea and more productive conversation with your therapist when you are finally ready to take that step.
Here are 5 things to consider:
1. Proper sleep (I really recommend this no matter what the complaint is). If you can’t enjoy a good night sleep because of your stress and anxiety, try everything else on this list first with the ultimate goal to enjoy your comfy bed and get your brain to rest.
2. Learning a good breathing exercise. In our Anxiety & Stress Management Content Hub (free by the way), I have a whole neuropsychological explanation on why breathing is so helpful with anxiety. Check it out here.
3. Cognitive restructuring (otherwise known as cognitive-behavioral training). This is one of the most practiced and well-researched schools of thought and techniques in modern psychology. It’s highly effective for depression, anxiety, relationships, and quite a few other things. In a nutshell, cognitive stands for thoughts… .and the big idea is that your thoughts (especially the negative ones) dictate your feelings and your behaviors…..so, if you learn how to reframe your thoughts, you’ll be able to tame the crappy unpleasant feelings of anxiety. It’s not always easy and that’s why a supportive and trained therapist can help get to the bottom of those pesky automatic thoughts that have been ingrained in your mind for a while.
4. Distraction (finding a creative passion)…not just a hobby, but a true passion that you can immerse yourself into and serve as a distraction. Overachievers are overthinkers. You can’t stop it. A therapist telling you to stop it is not going to help. So what do you do? You give it a good food to chew on. It’s called a “competing thought or behavior.” Instead of chewing on junk food, you are giving them a healthy fruit or vegetable to chew on. The brain cannot hold two competing thoughts or behaviors at the same time. You can’t be relaxed and tense at the same time…so rather than thinking unproductive thoughts, we should have a handful of productive thoughts and activities like a really exciting book or podcast, some good dance music, a hobby or a passion or an entrepreneurial idea that you can throw yourself in.
5. Master the power of positive imagery. Imagery is a mental picture of something not present. If you relax a little, close your eyes, you can create mental pictures. Anxiety comes with a sense of powerlessness especially when we have intrusive thoughts that turn into catastrophic images. Sad, angry, anxious feelings are caused by self-destructive images, which sometimes serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, which can also go both ways. These mental images (some with auditory elements) are stored in various albums in our minds. And they get replayed by the cortex repeatedly. Just like we talked about our negative thoughts, we should try to replace the negative images with positive or neutral ones. Consistent application of imagery exercises can provide an enduring sense of personal power and control. Our goal is to use imagery to control negative emotions and overcome undesirable behaviors.
Let’s give one a try. Think of it as making a movie and then popping in the DVD player every time you need to. It’s like replacing a horror movie with a comedy or a love story or a cooking show. This is just one short example:
1. Sit back comfortably,
2. Try to relax your body (shake it off just like a puppy would)
3. Breathe deeply,
4. Let your body get loose
5. Stretch, tighten and untighten your different muscles in your body
6. Close your eyes,
7. Try to imagine yourself somewhere doing something that makes you feel very calm and peaceful. You can create whatever images you want.
8. Let’s say it’s a vacation with your loved one. Imagine the sand, the ocean, the smell, the sun, the palm trees, the hotel, the lazy river, your favorite meal, snorkeling.
9. Create as many details as you can.
10. Every time, your mind gets stuck back in a vicious, anxious grip, go back to the beach, to the details, keep building your positive movie.
11. Re-direct to the good movie every time you have the tendency to slip up.
These, of course, are just a few strategies you can use to manage anxiety and some overwhelmingly stressful times. Therapy can take all of these to a deeper and individualized level of treatment.
If for some reason, you are not ready for the time or the financial commitment of therapy, or you are just not a big fan of the idea of therapy, I’ve created a beginner’s mini-training to be released February 15th.